Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals
by Phil Burgess, NHRA.com
Cruz Pedregon probably has never experienced a day quite like he did Sunday at the 44th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where not only did he clinch his second NHRA POWERade Funny Car world championship, but he did so in convincing fashion by winning the event, his third straight, to end the season. A trio of drivers who finished in second place in their classes – Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Chris Rivas (Pro Stock Motorcycle) -- enjoyed some retribution for falling just short by punching home runs at the season finale. Rivas earned second place by defeating newly crowned champ Eddie Krawiec in the final round, Dixon downed Rod Fuller, and Anderson beat red-lighting Kurt Johnson.
Cruz Pedregon probably has never experienced a day quite like he did Sunday at the 44th annual Automobile Club of Southern California NHRA Finals, the 2008 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series season finale at Auto Club Raceway at Pomona, where not only did he clinch his second NHRA POWERade Funny Car world championship, but he did so in convincing fashion by winning the event, his third straight, to end the season.
A trio of drivers who finished in second place in their classes – Larry Dixon (Top Fuel), Greg Anderson (Pro Stock), and Chris Rivas (Pro Stock Motorcycle) -- enjoyed some retribution for falling just short by punching home runs at the season finale. Rivas earned second place by defeating newly crowned champ Eddie Krawiec in the final round, Dixon downed Rod Fuller, and Anderson beat red-lighting Kurt Johnson.
Surprisingly, the Top Fuel final-round match between
"The car nosed over really, really, really badly on the other end and gave me the feeling it was going to blow up, but I wasn't at the finish line yet," recounted
"I hate finishing second [in points], but as far as the bonus money that gets passed around to the guys on the team, the difference between fifth place, where we came into this race, and second, where we finished, is monumental. We were racing to finish second, so I'm really happy for them."
Fuller had the chance to pass David Powers Racing teammate Antron Brown for fifth place in the standings by winning the event, but his day probably was already made when he upset heavily favored Tony Schumacher, the low qualifier, in the second round. Schumacher, who was gunning to win a record 77th round and 16th event title this season, lost on a holeshot to season-long foil Fuller's Rob Flynn-tuned Caterpillar rig. Fuller's .043 light and 3.862 defeated Schumacher's .062-launched 3.853 by better than a hundredth of a second. Sandwiched around that morale-boosting win were a 3.83 to 3.93 first-round conquest of Steve Torrence and a semifinal victory over European ace Urs Erbacher, 3.85 to 3.99.
Pedregon's heavy lifting was done by the end of round one when losses by his closest Funny Car title contenders, Tim Wilkerson and Robert Hight, secured Pedregon's second championship, but the driver of the Rahn Tobler-tuned Advance Auto Parts Solara wasn't done yet. He followed with a second-round victory in a classic race with mentor and rival John Force and Force's hired gun, low qualifier Mike Neff, then beat Ron Capps on a holeshot in the final, 4.087 to 4.078.
"I'm emotionless, I'm worn out; I'm beyond happy, beyond excited," said Pedregon after the event. "I was so relieved and for a minute couldn’t even believe it when Tony [Pedregon] beat Hight. What a day. No way did I think the championship would be clinched in the first round. Wilkerson has been so tough all year; I don’t think anyone knew he had that in him. All of those guys deserve credit because this was a hard-fought deal to the end.
"I honestly can't say we expected to win the race. Neff's been running so good -- he was the No. 1 qualifier, and it looked like his day – I just figured I’d go up there and leave on time and at about half-track I'd see that red fender out there; Capps, too. Those guys are good and are overdue. I just wanted to be in the [finish line] photo shot, but we kept turning on win lights."
Pedregon was appearing in his third straight final round after winning back to back in
Despite the runner-up, his Finals effort had to be a bit of a salve to Capps, a three-time championship runner-up who experienced one of the toughest seasons of his great career. The driver of Don Schumacher's NAPA Auto Parts Dodge had won at least three races in each of the previous three campaigns but reached the final round just once this year, in
Although the Pro Stock championship had been decided in Jeg Coughlin's favor in qualifying, the battle for second place went all the way to the final, where Anderson defeated Johnson. K.J. red-lighted with a -.004 reaction, but
“It was kind of a neat, neat deal coming down to the final round, Kurt and I for second place,” said Anderson. “It is second place, but it was first place today. That’s the best either of us could have done. It was the highest position available, and it felt like we were going for the championship there. I love racing Kurt. We always have great battles. I wish that would have been for the championship, but second ain’t so bad. Right now, we’re going to have to be happy with that, and next year, we’ll have to try and rectify that. Maybe next year it will be Kurt and I going for the championship on the last run here.
“I’m very proud of my guys. They stuck with me. I’ve certainly had some hiccups along the way during this Countdown, and I have nobody to blame for losing it but myself. My hat’s off to Jeg Coughlin; he did a better job during the Countdown, and he deserved to win the championship this year. I just got to try harder next year, and maybe that’s what I did wrong this year: I probably tried a little too hard and thought too much about it and put too much pressure on myself and just kind of stopped having fun racing. Today, the pressure was off, and I just came out and had fun, and, poof, the car performed great, and the driver performed fine, and we won a race again.”
Johnson was gunning for his fourth win of the season with his ACDelco Cobalt, racing to his sixth final round of the season from the No. 3 position. He defeated Vinnie Deceglie, Rickie Jones, and Anderson's teammate, Jason Line, to reach the money round. The victory over Line was won by a razor-thin margin of .007, 6.638 to 6.650, after Line gained a narrow .011 to .016 advantage at the green.
After having clinched his first NHRA POWERade world championship a round earlier, Krawiec's next goal was not to become just the second driver in NHRA history to win a championship without winning a national event (Rob Bruins won the 1979 Top Fuel crown in just such a fashion), but Rivas had other ideas, bashing out low e.t. of the meet at 6.929 in the Pro Stock Motorcycle final to defeat Krawiec's 7.00 and earn his fourth win of the season aboard the Drag Specialties Buell. The victory lifted Rivas into second place in the points, just five markers behind Krawiec.
"We're still not really sure where that 6.92 came from. I knew that we had left together, and by the time I plugged 3rd gear, he had completely dropped back; I thought he had broken," said Rivas, who won three of the five Pro Stock Motorcycle events in the Countdown playoffs. "We hit the rev limiter at the finish line, so I knew it either had been a really good run or that it had broken the transmission. We owe a great gratitude to Valerie Thompson, who let us take her fuel-injection system and wiring harness off of her Buell and let us use her laptop to tune it.
"I have no animosity about how anything turned out. I did what I was supposed to do as a rider; I took out the reigning world champ and kept him from having the number-two spot, and I feel fantastic about that."
Krawiec had qualified the Vance & Hines Screamin' Eagle Harley-Davidson No. 2 behind Matt Smith and needed only to go one round further than the reigning season champ to take his crown, a task that got considerably easier when Smith's Nitro Fish Buell broke in round two against Rivas. Krawiec had already defeated Peggy Llewellyn in round one, then pulled even in points with Smith by beating Chip Ellis in round two. He did that handily and clinched the championship in the semifinals when Rivas beat Craig Treble but was unable to secure a run good enough for a potential national event backup he needed to pass Krawiec.
Krawiec did his part as well by beating teammate Andrew Hines in the other half of the semifinals. In addition to beating Smith in round two and Treble in the semi's, Rivas had trailered Junior Pippin in round one.
Lucas Oil Sportsman event titles were won by Dave Fletcher and Lee Zane, who crowned their season championships in Comp and Stock with season-ending wins. Other titles were won by Jim Whitely (Top Alcohol Dragster), Mick Snyder (Top Alcohol Funny Car), Byron Worner (Super Stock), Anthony Castillo (Super Comp), and David Coapstick (Super Gas).
Summit Racing Series national championships were won by Division 4's Bart Nelson (Super Pro), Division 6's Steve Kelly (Pro), Division 1's Michael VanDenHeuvel (Sportsman), and Division 5's Tom Klemme (Super Pro Bike).
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